Your favourite artist is performing an emotional ballad and when she reaches the dramatic climax of the song, she vaults to the top of her range and produces a piercing sound that shakes you to the core. That is the power of the whistle register and although the ability to control that part of the human voice is quite rare, I have compiled a list of the best singers who have mastered that feat!
Simply being able to hit a high note was not enough to guarantee a singer a spot on this list (sorry, Christina Aguilera). Indeed, after considering artists from various genres of music, such Top 40/Pop, R&B, Soul, Gospel, Jazz and even Rock, only ten acts made the final cut. Then, they were primarily judged regarding their control – breathing and pitch were primary – power, the application of their voices to music (phrasing, harmonising, vocal runs etc.) and emotion.
Additionally, since performance footage of some of these singers is quite rare, I have included the a mix of studio and live recordings for your listening pleasure. Now that I’ve explained the development of the list, see who ranks among the ten best whistle register singers below:
Shanice is widely remembered for her breakthrough single, “I Love Your Smile”, but she also has a reputation for the unpleasant squealing that she calls singing. Yes, although she has an impressive voice, Shanice has a bad tendency to shriek at unsuspecting patrons of her concerts as she eagerly attempts to show off the extent of her vocal range.
However, when Shanice behaves and focuses on the music instead of making an impression on people who may have forgotten her early 1990s hits, she proves that she is a very talented vocalist. Ever heard of the acronym K.I.S.S (Keep It Simple, Stupid)? Shanice should repeat that to herself every time she steps onstage.
Notable whistle register showcase: a cover of Minnie Riperton’s “Lovin’ You”.
9. Betty Wright
Betty Wright has big personality and voice to match. Aside from coaching several artists behind the scenes on how to sing, she earned a reputation for being one of the fiercest live performers of the 1970s and 1980s, particularly because of the extent of her vocal range.
At any moment, Wright can leap from a strong alto that would make Gladys Knight blush to a ringing high note above soprano high C that even Cissy Houston can’t match. Despite being 59 years of age, she still records music and her famous upper register is still as ferocious as ever.
Notable whistle register showcase: a live performance of “No Pain, No Gain”.
8. Rachelle Ferrell
Perhaps the most powerful voice on this list belongs to Rachelle Ferrell. Her instrument packs a heavier punch than an angry Chris Brown and could probably break glass if left unchecked. Really, Ferrell’s dramatic faces and quirky phrasing are usually enough for a good show but once she gets started with those high notes, her fans are always left in awe.
Notable whistle register showcase: a live performance of “Autumn Leaves”.
7. Adam Lopez
Who said that only women can sing in the whistle register? Many men also possess that skill and none have mastered it quite like Adam Lopez. Holding the record for the highest note ever produced by a male – C#8, to be exact – this vocal wonder can put any soprano to shame.
Unfortunately, Lopez’s music career hasn’t been as memorable as his achievements in the Guinness Book of World Records, thus proving that being able to hit a few stove kettle notes isn’t enough to book you a spot on the charts. Good music is just as important.
Notable whistle register showcase: a live performance of “Till the End of Time”.
6. Deniece Williams
Deniece Williams gained experience by working as a session singer for Stevie Wonder, and used what she learned to launch a successful career as an R&B and Gospel artist. Of course, it didn’t hurt that she had one of the sweetest voices ever laid on wax and a colourful soprano that brightened up any room.
Wonder named Williams as one of the most talented singers of the last century so who are we to agree? I’m just going to sit in this chair and bop along happily to her biggest hit, “Let’s Hear it for the Boy”, as she coos through my headphones.
Notable whistle register showcase: “Why Can’t We Fall In Love?” from the When Love Comes Calling album.
5. Lisa Fischer
Many of you may not know of Lisa Fischer but don’t be ashamed because neither did I until last year. After digging through her catalogue, it became clear that this woman is an astounding vocalist of the highest order. Indeed, I almost feel embarrassed that I never heard her name before being confronted on Twitter for my ignorance.
Still, joining the Fischer bandwagon twenty years late has been a delightful experience, especially since her voice doesn’t seem to age. Random: if Patti LaBelle could sing in the whistle register, I imagine that she would sound similar to Fischer.
Notable whistle register showcase: a live performance of “How Can I Ease The Pain”.
4. Debelah Morgan
Debelah Morgan fell off most people’s radar’s after the inescapable hit “Dance with Me”, so many people never truly got the chance to appreciate her talent. On the other hand, true music fans, who actually purchased her records, would know that she is one of the best singers to hit the music scene in years.
With paper thin precision and fantastic control, Morgan is able to move through her range like a well-trained Opera singer. Well, that’s probably because she did study classical music! Just listen to Morgan use her whistle register and it’s easy to imagine her performing in an Opera hall.
Notable whistle register showcase: a live performance of “Close to You”.
3. Chante Moore
Chante Moore is probably one of the most underrated artists in the industry today but when she appears on television, people are quickly reminded of her talent. Unlike many of her peers, Moore completely understands her voice and the extent of her vocal range.
When Moore hits a high note, it always perfectly captures the emotion of the moment and drives her message home. Yet, she also knows how to have fun and thanks to her great breath control, she is known for singing entire songs in the whistle register!
Notable whistle register showcase: a live performance of “It’s Alright”.
2. Minnie Riperton
I’ve said it before and I will say it again: Minnie Riperton is the most underrated vocalist of the 20th century. This genius inspired every artist on this list to sing in the whistle register – seriously, they all name her as a main influence on their singing styles – and was the muse of Stevie Wonder until her untimely death in 1979 at the age of 31 years.
Riperton had the ability to imitate birds, instruments (keyboards, electric guitars, flutes etc.) and even electronic devices. She was a true marvel of music and without her work, this article wouldn’t even exist. Excuse me while I try to hit the high note in “Lovin’ You”.
Notable whistle register showcase: a live performance of “Ruby Tuesday” with The Rotary Connection.
1. Mariah Carey
The only artist in popular music who has established a legacy with the use of the whistle register that is greater than Riperton is her biggest fan, Mariah Carey. This icon is known for her stunning five octave vocal range, clever melismatic style and colourful tone, but her flourishes at the top of her voice have always been the highlights of her shows.
No other singer on this list uses whistles to create such intricate ornamentation that always compliments the music and punctuates the lyrics. Also, Carey has awe-inspiring pitch control and the skill to use staccato, vibrato and even crescendo while soaring through the seventh octave.
Even more impressively, Carey maintains perfect mastery of her tone and volume in the whistle register. She can switch from a breathy, sultry lover to roaring diva with the same breath, and switch to other registers without missing a beat. The other areas of her voice have lost flexibility with age but Carey’s trump card remains her whistle register, which continues to improve with each passing year.
Notable whistle register showcase: a live performance of “Emotions” on MTV Unplugged and “Bliss” from the Rainbow album.
Who else should have been added to the list? Who among those listed above is the best? Who should have been omitted? Share your opinions and take part in our poll below!